NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau — Korea Speakers

Ji-Hyun Ahn

August 26, 2020-August 25, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Ji-Hyun Ahn is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington Tacoma. She received her M.A. from the Graduate School of Communication & Arts at Yonsei University (South Korea) and Ph.D. from the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin (U.S.A.). She specializes in media globalization, Korean television and popular culture, Asian multiculturalism, and critical mixed-race studies. She is particularly interested in examining how media practices have facilitated the re-imagination of national identity from a global media perspective. Her first book, Mixed-Race Politics and Neoliberal Multiculturalism in South Korean Media (2018), studied how the increase of visual representation of mixed-race Koreans formulates a particular racial project in contemporary South Korean media. She is currently working on a new research project that explores anti-Korean sentiment and the rise of new nationalism in postcolonial East Asia. She won several Top Paper Awards for her work and has published numerous book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals including Media, Culture & Society, Cultural Studies, International Communication Gazette, and the Asian Journal of Social Science.

Presentations offered by Professor Ahn:

Watching Race: Mixed-Race Koreans and Multiculturalism in Contemporary South Korean TV

South Korea has long been considered as one of the most racially homogenous countries due to its strong myth of being a “single-ethnic nation.” Yet this well-known myth no longer seems to hold the same weight as in the past because Korea’s foreign population has experienced significant growth due to substantial global migration. Accordingly, the number of children born of unions between a Korean parent and a non-Korean parent is increasing, challenging the idea of monoracial/ethnic Korea. Considering televisual culture as a space where the practice of seeing race takes place and where the meaning of being Korean is contested, this lecture explores televised racial moments that demonstrate particular ways of re-imagining of what it means to be Korean in the contemporary era of globalization. Specifically, the lecture examines visual representations of symbolic biracial Korean figures and discusses how they produce critical conjunctures of race, skin color, blood ties, gender, class, nationality/citizenship, and colonial history to challenge the hegemonic notion of Korea as racially homogenous. The lecture provides an opportunity to discuss the ongoing struggle over racial reconfiguration in Korean popular media.

Anti-Korean Sentiment and (Online) Hate Culture in East Asia

China, Japan, and Taiwan are arguably the most lucrative markets for Korean media and popular culture, but these nations are also home to emerging anti-Korean movements. These anti-Korean movements are diverse in terms of medium (taking place both online and off), participants (spanning the range of youth familiar with digital media culture), and the subject of protest (some movements protest Korean residents, others Korea’s cultural threat, and yet others organize around international disputes with the Korean state). This (new) aversion to South Korea is rooted in the region’s colonial history combined with Korea’s recently changed status on the global cultural map from a peripheral nation to a pseudo-empire. The lecture explores what social conditions support the rise of anti-Korean sentiment across East Asia today. More specifically, the lecture examines how anti-Korean rhetoric and hate speech is created and circulated in online and offline spaces and how it is politicized to channel national antagonism in East Asia. The lecture also discusses individuals’ collaborative efforts to combat racism and hate speech in the region.

What does the “K” Stand for in K-pop?: Deconstructing Koreanness in K-pop

With no doubt, K-pop refers to Korean popular music. But what does the “K” mean in K-pop? With increasing numbers of non-Korean members in K-pop groups, K-pop as a music genre, cultural product and system has become increasingly more transnational and hybrid than ever before. Indeed, recruiting multinational trainees and having non-Korean members when creating a K-pop idol group has been a proven strategy for K-pop entertainment agencies to appeal to different regions of the global market. There even have been some intriguing experiments to create a K-pop group with the majority of its members being non-Korean/Asian, although these attempts interestingly (and maybe predictably) faced huge backlash from K-pop fan communities. Engaging with the controversy over the aforementioned cases, this lecture questions what constitutes K-pop and discusses what is specifically Korean about K-pop. The lecture first introduces various ways in which we understand K-pop and then discusses K-pop’s racial imagination by looking at fans’ reaction to and discourse around K-pop groups without Korean members. In doing so, the lecture addresses how the boundary of K-pop is made and re-made.

Ji-Hyun Ahn currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in her term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between August 26, 2022 – August 25, 2023

Crystal Baik

April 31, 2023 – March 31, 2026
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events

Crystal Mun-hye Baik (she/her) is Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). She is a co-founding member of the Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective; a Lead Researcher of Critical Pedagogy & Publications at UCR’s Memory & Resistance Laboratory (MEM-RES); and a co-editor of the Critical Militarization Studies book series with Dr. Anjali Nath at the University of Michigan Press. Dr. Baik’s first book, Reencounters: On the Korean War & Diasporic Memory Critique (Temple University Press, 2020) examines what it means to live with and remember the ongoing Korean War when its everyday manifestations – hypervisible and deeply sensed – are delinked from militarization. Dr. Baik offers the concept of reencounters to better track how the Korean War’s illegible entanglements impact daily life through a diasporic feminist memory archive that includes oral history projects, live performance, and video installations. Currently, Dr. Baik is working on two sole-authored book projects, including Unsanctioned Knowledges: The Life and Labor of Korean Diasporic Feminist Activists, and the Grief Archive. She has edited special issues that focus on the Cold War, Asian Diasporas, and the impact of militarization for Periscope (Social Text), Amerasia, and the Critical Ethnic Studies Journal (forthcoming winter 2023), and she is also a co-editor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Korea (Duke University Press).

Presentations offered by Professor Baik:

The Work of Mending – The Korean War and Diasporic Memory Work

What does it mean to remember the Korean War as ongoing and indefinite? What kinds of cultural memory practices, or memory work, might be culled to register the war’s site-specific manifestations – too often perceived as something other than war— across a diasporic geography? Lastly, how might memory work reckon with a militarized colonial present in Korea, the Pacific, and Oceania, while also enacting expansive visions of a demilitarized reparative future? While this talk considers a broad scale of Korean diasporic cultural memory works that have emerged these past two decades (including live performance, graphic novels, oral history, film, and installation), I place special focus on the feminist multimedia oeuvre of Jane Jin Kaisen ( In the talk, I address the praxis of mending in Kaisen’s work (weaving, spinning, braiding, shamanic rituals, caregiving), a gendered form of labor that accounts for how war, militarized violence, and capitalist extraction has unevenly impacted different spaces, bodies, and communities. More specifically, by engaging with an emergent genealogy of multimedia works that center the audacity of critical care and connection against US-South Korean bilateral policies of occupation and separation (Community of Parting, The Pull of the Moon, Braiding and Mending, Burial of this Order, Offering – Coil Embrace), this talk considers the reparative work of mending taken up by peripheralized figures – Korean female shamans in Jeju-do, transnational adoptees in Korea and Western Europe, and communities residing in the Korean DMZ area – who simultaneously bear the disproportionate burden of war, militarization, and division.

The Grief Archive – The Korean War and Mourning Beyond Melancholia

In Seeing Like a Child: Inheriting the Korean War (Fordham University Press 2021), Clara Han powerfully addresses the worldmaking capacity of the Korean War. In the book, Han insists that the effects of the Korean War are not traumatic ruptures inherited by younger generations but active dynamics that (re)create the worlds we inhabit across geographical, temporal, and generational lines.

Taking cue from Han’s work, this talk considers how a constellation of recently published or developing academic monographs and cultural works – Han’s book alongside Stephen Sohn’s Minor Salvage: The Korean War and Korean American Life Writings (University of Michigan Press, 2022), Grace Cho’s Tastes Like War (2021), and my own emergent writing on familial loss and grief – examines the Korean War as it continues to make and unmake the intimate worlds we navigate. In particular, this talk begins to piece together a working paradigm of grief that converses with and departs from how mourning is typically discussed within Transnational Asian/American studies: through the Freudian lens of racial melancholia and as a by-product of the racialized gendered formation of the US settler nation-state. In contrast, I explore how this grief archive gestures to a transborder articulation of loss and grieving and considers crucial elements that cannot be wholly relegated to the national borders of the United States or Korea.

Ruediger Frank

Ruediger Frank

May 31, 2022 – March 31, 2025
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events

Dr. Ruediger FRANK is Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna, where he is also the Director of the European Centre for North Korean Studies. He was born and raised in socialist East Germany and lived for five years in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, experienced German unification first hand as a 21-year-old in 1989/1990, and then spent one semester as a language student at Kim-Il-Sung University in Pyongyang in 1991/1992. He holds an MA in Korean Studies and International Relations, and a PhD in Economics. On the basis of these skills and experiences, he has written extensively on various topics related to North Korea, including economic history during the 1950s, the connections between ideology and economic reform after the 1990s famine, the transformation of state-socialism, tourism and trade, the political economy of unification, and many more. He has been working in various Korea-related councils of the World Economic Forum since 2011~2021 and was named one of the 50 most influential German economists by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2012. He tweets as @RFrankVienna.

Presentations offered by Professor Frank:

Growth or Decline of North Korea’s Economy? A Discussion Based on the Annual SPA Budget Reports

Growth or Decline of North Korea’s Economy? A Discussion Based on the Annual SPA Budget Reports This talk deals with some of the practical problems in North Korea research, in particular the acquisition and interpretation of aggregate quantitative data. Using the example of GDP figures, it will be shown which sources exist, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how scholars try to deal with them.

Comparing German and Korean Unification: Challenges and Pitfalls

This talk deals broadly with the comparison of the German unification case (1990) and the expected Korean unification. It argues that such a comparison is risky and should be undertaken with utmost caution, in order to avoid misleading results that could lead to ineffective or damaging policy choices. It identifies a large number of specific issues where differences are substantial, including geopolitical, economic, and ideological aspects.

Challenging the Korean Fear of High Costs: German Unification as an Economic Win-Win Situation

This talk focuses on the question of unification costs, which is one of the major concerns especially among South Koreans when it comes to discussing the issue of Korean unification. It challenges the conventional narrative that German unification was extremely costly, and argues that it has in fact resulted in quantitative economic gains for all involved sides.

How Can External Actors Increase the Likelihood of Economic Reforms in North Korea: An Analysis Based on the CRE Model

This talk addresses the question of how to increase the likelihood of a deep and broad economic reform drive in North Korea. Rather than doing so based on an ad-hoc interpretation of isolated events or randomly available data, it will attempt to take a systematic approach. The CRE model helps to break down a very broad question into smaller, more precise tasks. As a result, it will be shown that efforts directed at the elite and the middle class, and aimed at increasing perceived gains from reforms and losses from non-reforms, are the most promising measures. This sheds a new light on various policies applied by the West including economic sanctions and summitry with the top leader, and helps explaining the rationale behind current North Korean policies such as inward-orientation and fight against cultural infiltration.

Rudiger Frank currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2022-March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023-March 31, 2024

3 engagements between April 1, 2024-March 31, 2025

Valerie Gelezeau

Valérie Gelézeau

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events

Valérie Gelézeau is a Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS, Paris) and the director of the Centre for Studies on China, Korea and Japan (CNRS-EHESS-Université de Paris). A cultural geographer & Korean Studies specialist, working with a method she designates as “fieldwork micro-geography,” she is the author of several books addressing the various modalities of space as a social construct in Korea today. In Ap’at’ŭ konghwaguk (The Republic of Apartments, 2007), and Séoul, ville géante, cites radieuses (Séoul, giant cities, radiant cities, 2003), she interprets the development of apartment complexes as one of the main mediation in the fabric of Korean contemporary urban society. She interrogates the Korean capitality in Seoul, mégapole (Seoul, a megapolis, 2011) and more recently in Sŏrabŏl. Des capitales de la Corée (About Korean capital cities, 2018). With Koen De Ceuster (Leiden University) and Alain Delissen (EHESS), she edited De-bordering Korea: Tangible and intangible legacies of the Sunshine Policy (2013). Since 2018, she is the scientific coordinator of the project CITY-NKOR (City, architecture and urbanism in North Korea), a project funded by the French National Research Agency and partnering with the French School of Oriental Studies (EFEO) and Leiden University, which gave way to her latest book, edited with Benjamin Joinau (Hoingik University): Faire du terrain en Corée du Nord. Ecrire autrement les sciences sociales (Doing fieldwork in North Korea. A different way to write social sciences, 2018).

Presentations Offered by Professor Gelézeau:

Deciphering the Gangnamscape – Apartments and the Vertical City in South Korea

In 2012, PSY’s global hit “Gangnam Style” triggered a crazy world passion for a new and strange choreography on the Seoulite urban scene of prominently featured apartments. The horse dance globalized a “Gangnamscape,” in which high-rise housing disseminated a common image, more or less glamorous, of South Korean cities. This talk tries to elucidate this new expression of the “Republic of apartments” (Apat’ŭ konghwaguk), while analyzing its trajectory. Largely unknown to city-dwellers before the 1960s, large apartment complexes (ap’at’ŭ tanji) are now powerfully shaping the landscapes of contemporary South Korean cities. They are now memorialized by artists (from PSY to well-known photographers), planners, or citizen themselves. Apartments have been the main architectural mediation to the making of the South Korean modern urban society. They are still at the core of the material and immaterial city in South Korea. The lecture will discuss those issues, combining the perspectives of cultural geography and Korean studies and using ethnographic materials gathered on sites studied since the mid-1990s (in downtown Seoul) and new ones in the making (Songdo).

The Korean Meta-Nation and the Archipelago of Korean Capital Cities

How does the Korean case provide a powerful critique to the euro-centric approach of capital cities as a static and central product of rising nation-State? This talk discusses how the partition of the Korean peninsula since the mid-20th century reactivated the plurality of capital cities. Based on the analysis of geographical discourses (in Korean, English, and French), it offers a geo-historical discussion on “capitaless” in Korea and narrates the geo-historical trajectories of capital cities. The competition of political capitals is embodied in architecture and urban development both in Seoul and Pyongyang, while discourses on capitals of great historical Kingdoms were to legitimize divergent historical narrations—with material consequences on heritage policies, constructions, and management. Next to those great capitals of Korean geo-history (hyper-capitals of the present States, Pyongyang and Seoul, or legitimizing historical capital cities such as Kaesong and Kyŏngju), de-capitalized cities such as Suwŏn, forgotten or marginalized capitals, such as Puyo, or Kongju) form an archipelago of capitals. This archipelago of “hyper-capitals” and “shadow capitals,” scattered not only across the peninsula itself, but also connected to many capital cities of the Korean diaspora: from the North American diaspora’s Koreatown in Los Angeles to the Central Asian diaspora’s Almaty in Kazakhstan, draws the network of capitals of a complex and plural Korean meta-nation.

The Korean Meta-Border, Schizo-Koreanology, and the Cycles of Geopolitical Crisis in the Peninsula

How to explain the cyclic nature of the Korean crisis and the irresolution of the Korean question? This lecture discusses the question, starting from the locus of division itself, the border, and the perspective of social and cultural geography. Elaborating on the vast literature produced in South Korea about the pundan chej’e (the division system), as well as on personal research about the Korean border implemented since the mid-2000s, I argue that the partition of the peninsula is much more than a geopolitical fact happened in 1945. In the context of the armistice regime, the spatial border, far to be a static line or zone, is a front still in the making: it is to be considered as a permanent ongoing process that keeps creating more and more socio-spatial borders, new and multiple territorialities, within the two Koreas and far beyond the peninsula. As such, it keeps redefining profoundly the “Korean” identity(ies) and appears as the paragon of a “meta-border” (M. Foucher), a border that expands far beyond the place and time where it was originally inscribed. While those particular features of the border condition scientific perspectives on the study of “Korea” (a schizo-Koreaology), they also put at stake the cyclical nature of the inter-Korean relation, as well as the neither war nor peace geopolitical situation of the peninsula.

Beyond Fieldwork, a Field to Work : Theory, Praxis and Ethics for Researching (in) North Korea

What are the challenges of a scholar trying to do fieldwork in a closed and contained environment as North Korea, restricted internally by the totalitarian context and externally by the international sanctions? Is there merit, and even meaning, in pursuing research despite imposed restrictions on access to the terrain? How does this restricted access impact research findings and how does one account for them? While decades of discussion regarding the politics, praxis, and ethics of fieldwork have been engaged, those topics are rarely regarding studies in and about North Korea, where common and scientific knowledge usually considers impossible the practice of fieldwork. This talk proposes to address the internal contradiction of “doing fieldwork in North Korea,” by challenging a positivist view of what fieldwork is, as something external to be discovered and interpreted. Beyond fieldwork, recognizing a field to work is part of our scientific engagement as Korean studies specialists, who may want to include all dimension, complexities and pluralities of the Korean meta-nation in their research.

Valérie Gelézeau currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

1 engagement between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

1 engagement between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

Ju Hui Judy Han

August 26, 2020-August 25, 2023
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events

Ju Hui Judy Han is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at UCLA. Her writings about mobility, religious politics, and queer and feminist activism have been published in Journal of Korean Studies, Scholar & Feminist OnlineGeoforumCritical Asian Studies, and positions: asia critique among others, as well as in several edited books including Territories of Poverty: Rethinking North and South (2015) and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire (2018). She has extensive experience with delivering accessible, media-rich presentations to scholarly, activist, and arts audiences. She has a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley and has previously taught at the University of Toronto.

Presentations offered by Professor Han:

Not Now, Not Yet: the Politics of Postponement and LGBTQ+ Activism in Korea

Whether referred to as “LGBTQ+” in coalitional terms of identity or as “sexual minority” to emphasize relations of power and marginalization, non-normative gender and sexual formations in South Korea have certainly become more visible—and contentious—than ever before. In recent years, LGBTQ activists have confronted intensified anti-LGBTQ backlash such as the organized opposition against the annual Queer Festival (Pride). But they also face deep-seated heterosexism and patriarchy in liberal and mainstream social movements. Contemporary LGBTQ politics in South Korea in fact involve challenges from both conservative and liberal camps. This lecture presents a brief history of LGBTQ activism in South Korea, highlighting moments of political upheaval and grassroots social movements that grapple with these challenges. I discuss how anti-LGBTQ conservatives continue to block equal rights protection and anti-discrimination laws altogether while many liberal politicians maintain a reluctance to fully embrace LGBTQ rights as fundamental human rights. There are important differences. Whereas conservatives portray LGBTQ rights as simply intolerable and permanently impossible, liberals often assert that LGBTQ rights are premature and that it is “not yet” the right time in Korea. What does it mean to be considered untimely or out of place in time? What does such politics of postponement tell us about progress and neoliberal democracy?

Beyond Mass Rallies and Candlelight Protests: Protest Repertoires in Precarious Times

The Candlelight Protests in South Korea in 2016-17 succeeded in achieving what had seemed impossible—ousting the conservative President for corruption and abuse of power and installing a new, more liberal government. In a triumphant view, the Candlelight Protests were credited for drawing from the historical legacies of pro-democracy movements and reinvigorating forms of decentralized collective action, demonstrating in a spectacular way the will of the people and the power of peaceful mass mobilization. This lecture complicates this depiction. Beyond spectacular mass rallies like the Candlelight Protests, I discuss a more diverse and sometimes more radical set of protest repertoires engaged by striking workers, queer/trans activists, religious leaders, and activists who offer remarkable stories of inequality, creative resistance, and resilience. These repertoires include indefinite hunger strikes, public head shaving ceremonies, long-term tent encampments, high-rise occupations of billboards and construction cranes, one-person protests, Buddhist prostration processions, and religious worship services in public spaces. Who performs these protests and to what end? What is accomplished by them and what are the critiques?

The Queer Thresholds of Heresy

Disputes over heresy are not new or uncommon, as mainline Protestant denominations in South Korea have historically deemed numerous minor sects and radical theologies to be heretical to the Christian faith. However, when the largest evangelical denomination in the country, the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Hapdong), began investigating Reverend Lim Borah in 2017 and subsequently ruled her ministry to be heretical, they charted new grounds by denouncing LGBTI-affirming theology and ministry as heresy. Since then, a number of seminary students and clergy have found themselves in trouble with the institutional authorities of their schools and denominations. This talk traces the semantic ambiguity and politics of the term for heresy, idan, and discusses the intersection of heretical Christianity, gender and sexual nonconformity, and ideological dissidence. What becomes clear is that growing interests in queer theology and calls for LGBTI-affirming ministry have in turn provoked beleaguered Protestant denominations to use heresy to discredit and stigmatize dissident practices. Rather than simply stifle dissent, however, heresy controversies also expose the limits of dominant power and reveal the contours of vital resistance.

A Contentious History of Feminisms in Korea

Feminist politics in Korea today is a complex and diverse terrain, consisting of multiple genealogies and sometimes contrasting ideologies. For instance, feminists who began organizing mass protests in 2016 against misogyny and violence—especially after the so-called Gangnam Station murder and spycam scandals—are somewhat different in composition and political character from women workers organizing unions to fight workplace discrimination or queer activists who worked to decriminalize abortion in early 2019. The #MeToo movement that has exposed pervasive sexual violence in schools, churches, the arts, and in government has not always drawn clear connections to the transnational movements for justice for former “comfort women.” In a stark example of divergent feminisms, some feminists fought to protect the admission of a transgender student at a women’s university while others joined an effort to deny asylum to Yemeni refugees in Korea with a rhetoric that they are mostly young cisgender heterosexual men who might commit gender-based crimes against Korean women. The question is not whether one brand of feminism is more true or radical, young or old. Rather, I tease out in this talk the politics of difference and questions of intersectionality at work in these contentious political moments and spaces.

Ju Hui Judy Han currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between August 26, 2022 and August 25, 2023

Eleana Kim

Eleana J. Kim

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for recorded or live virtual events, or webinars

Eleana J. Kim is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research interests include kinship and relatedness, transpacific and (trans)national circulations, more-than-human ecologies, and categories of nature and culture as they are made and unmade through social practice. She is the author of Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging (Duke University Press, 2010), which was awarded the James B. Palais Prize in Korean Studies from the Association for Asian Studies, and the Social Science Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies, both in 2012. Her second book, De/Militarized Ecologies: Making Peace with Nature Along the Korean DMZ, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. Her essays have appeared in journals including Cultural AnthropologyJournal of Korean StudiesAnthropological QuarterlySocial TextAdoption & Culture, and edited volumes including The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Kinship and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire. Her research has been supported by the Korea Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She received her B.A. in English Literature from Brown University and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from New York University. She is an associate professor in the Anthropology Department and affiliated faculty of the Asian American Studies Department at University of California, Irvine and is president-elect of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Photo credit: Nicola Kountoupes

Presentations Offered by Professor Kim:

Adoptions from South Korea: How an Emergency Situation Became a Permanent Solution

South Korea holds the dubious distinction of having sent more children for adoption to foreign nations than any other country in the world. The international adoption of children first began in the aftermath of WWII, when orphans from war-ravaged Germany, Japan, Greece, and other nations relied upon the charity of extended kin or strangers to care for abandoned children. South Korean adoptions began under the same premise, namely, that an emergency situation of war orphans and mixed-race children, appearing in the context of foreign military occupation, required a drastic solution. Once the nation had stabilized in the postwar period, however, rather than ending these child migrations, the South Korean state institutionalized adoption as part of its welfare system. By the 1970s, it provided a model for other developing nations which were also struggling with overpopulation and a lack of social welfare programs. From an emergency measure for war orphans, adoption had become a solution for dealing with excess population—namely, children born to unwed mothers or poor families. Justified by an ideology of the “best interests of the child,” adoptions were also a ready source of foreign currency and an expedient mode of building goodwill with powerful, western nations. This talk provides a critical analysis Korean adoption history in order to illuminate the relationship between transnational adoption of children and the past seventy years of South Korean modernity, paying close attention to the contexts of Cold War geopolitics, global capitalism, and heteronormative, gendered family values. The more than 200,000 adopted Koreans around the world now constitute a sizable part of the Korean diaspora, and this talk concludes with a discussion of how adult adopted Koreans have not only problematized but also radically shifted hegemonic discourses that have long framed adoption as inherently good.

Cold War’s Nature: The Korean Demilitarized Zone and Mid-Century American Science

Since the early 2000s, international media coverage of the Korean peninsula has frequently included stories about the rare and endangered species that live in the DMZ, a buffer area borne out of the Korean War. This “accidental” natural sanctuary is framed in mythical terms––an ecological paradise blossoming out of unending war and symbolizing nature’s resilience. Drawing on the Smithsonian Institution archives and South Korean sources, this talk offers a critical, transpacific history of the DMZ’s ecology, tracing its origins to the mid-1960s, when a network of U.S. conservationists and Smithsonian ecologists first identified and constructed it as an “outdoor laboratory” within the emerging paradigm of “ecosystem science.” The DMZ’s ecology is an example of what I call “Cold War’s nature,” entangled within and reproductive of American scientific and political exceptionalism during a period of rising environmental awareness and expanding U.S. military empire. The DMZ area has since proven to be less of a “baseline” than a fragile refuge where ongoing militarization and incursions of capital are threatening actually existing life forms. I conclude by drawing upon ethnographic research on human-nonhuman assemblages in the DMZ area to ask what theoretical and political possibilities might be offered by extending the study of “Cold War afterlives” to include multispecies worlds. 

In the Meantime of Division: Multispecies Encounters in the Korean DMZ

This talk discusses the ecological transformations, cultural discourses, and transnational connections that, since the end of the Cold War, have contributed to the symbolic transformation of the DMZ from a scar of fratricidal war to a green belt representing biodiversity and peace. South Korean state discourses in particular began to celebrate the DMZ as the “land of peace and life” in order to promote the DMZ region, which includes rural areas immediately south of the DMZ, as sites of natural renaissance and tourism development. I discuss how the unending Korean War and the waxing and waning of interKorean détente have conditioned a temporality in South Korea that I call “the meantime of division.” In the hybrid civilian-military border areas close to the DMZ, national security and capitalism exist in tension, particularly for local people who have for decades been left out of the nation’s rapid economic development. With the transformation of the DMZ from a forbidden zone into a new frontier of possibilities, largely related to its ecological renaissance, border areas have become sites for new contestations and encounters among various parties, including farmers, local environmentalists, urban activists and intellectuals, and more-than-human entities. I examine how the DMZ’s “nature” is produced as valuable—ecologically and economically—and how it is becoming newly political in South Korea, drawing upon examples from my fieldwork, including migratory birds, land mines, and small irrigation ponds. In conclusion, I ask how a focus on these multispecies worlds may defamiliarize conventional discourses of national division, future unification, and peace.

Eleana Kim currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

headshot of christina klein

Christina Klein

April 31, 2022 – March 31, 2025
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events and classroom visits

Christina Klein is a cultural historian and film scholar whose research interests include US-Korean encounters, the Korean Wave, the cultural Cold War in Asia, gender, and historical memory. Her most recent book, Cold War Cosmopolitanism: Period Style in 1950s Korea Cinema (University of California, 2020) explores the cinematic representation of women in the tumultuous postwar period. She has published articles on the CIA-funded Asia Foundation, the globalization of film industries, why American studies scholars should pay attention to Korean cinema, and the martial arts film. Her first book, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (University of California, 2003) examines how American cultural producers cultivated a sense of political obligation to non-communist Asia by deploying a sentimental discourse of connection. She earned a BA in Film Studies from Wesleyan and a PhD in American Studies from Yale. She is a professor of English and member of the Asian Studies faculty at Boston College.

Presentations offered by Professor Klein:

“The Feminine 1950s: Social Change and Popular Culture in the Postwar Period”

The 1950s has been something of a “lost decade” within South Korean historiography, wedged as it is between the two longer periods of colonialism and developmental militarism. Recent scholarship, however, has revealed the postwar period to have been a time of rapid and contentious social change, during which women played an important role. The Korean War and the waging of the cultural Cold War spurred the movement of women out of the home and into public life, where they took on new roles as college students, breadwinners, entertainers, and feminists. This talk explores how these changes caused women to become the focal point for highly-charged debates about modernization and Westernization. It focuses on how popular culture, especially film, served as an arena in which these debates took place and it charts the rise of the woman-centered melodrama as the era’s most popular, and representative, genre. This talk will help students understand how the study of popular culture can illuminate aspects of women’s history that can be difficult to access through traditional archival sources.

Remembering the Korean War: Film and Historical Memory

The Korean War was a deeply traumatic event that shaped the lives and psyches of tens of millions of people across multiple generations. Over the past seventy years it has been memorialized through statues, museums, and numerous other forms of cultural expression. This talk explores the concept of “historical memories”: acts of public remembering that link the past to the present and invite use to interrogate the nature of the relationship between them. It investigates how the Korean War has been remembered on film, comparing how movies produced decades apart have depicted specific aspects of the war while also conveying the concerns and perspectives of their own historical moments. The films under discussion include The Marines Who Never Returned (1961), which was produced during the peak of the Cold War; Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005), which was made during the Sunshine Policy period; and Swing Kids (2018), which is a product of the cosmopolitan hallyu era. How does each film identify South Korea’s enemies? How does it define the country’s allies? How does it characterize the issues at stake in the war? By asking and answering these questions, we can see how understandings of the war’s significance have changed dramatically over time and have been shaped by the concerns of the present as much as by events of the past.

Parasite, Squid Game, BTS: The Globalization of Korean Popular Culture

In the years between 2019 and 2021, Korean popular culture achieved an unparalleled degree of global visibility, critical attention, and popular success. Parasite took top awards at Cannes and the Academy Awards, Squid Game occupied the number one slot on Netflix, and BTS sold out stadium shows and broke records worldwide. How did this happen? This talk charts the history of the Korean Wave (hallyu) from its origins in the late 1990s to the present. It discusses the role of government support, export-oriented production, the globalization of media companies, the impact of social media, the creation of new forms of fandom, the influence of the American market in conferring status, and the development of culturally hybrid styles.

Christina Klein currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 31, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31 2024

3 engagements between April 1, 2024 and March 31 2025

Youjeong Oh

April 31, 2023 – March 31, 2026
Available for both In-Person and live virtual events

Youjeong Oh is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place (Cornell, 2018), explores how Korean municipalities have used Korean TV dramas and K-pop music in their placeand tourism promotion. Her current research is about (over)development, dispossession, and desires in Jeju. Her other research interests include urban social movements, colonization through development, decolonization, indigenous resurgence, and media, tourism, and place in East Asia. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Tourism Geographies, Media, Culture & Society, and the Journal of Korean Studies. She received a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley.

Presentations offered by Professor Oh:

Development, Dispossession, and Desires in Jeju

Jeju has been a target of tourism and mega real estate development since the 1960s. Under the banner of making Jeju into the “Hawai’i of Korea,” tourism development in the 1980s and 1990screated multiple leisure complexes, golf courses, resort towns, and theme parks. Built through land expropriation, dispossession of the commons and communal resources, the disintegration of collective village economies, relaxed land use and environmental regulations, and the commodification of culture and landscapes, the tourism development in Jeju has brought windfall profits to the mainland capitalists who participated in it as developers, investors, and facility owners. Aiming to cultivate Jeju as a regional hub able to compete with Hong Kong or Singapore, Jeju Free International City Development has initiated several mega-urban projects since the mid-2000s such as Jeju Global Education City, Healthcare Town, Myth and History Park, and Yerae Resort Town. Tolerating relaxed forms of visa regulation, taxation, labor and environmental regulation, for-profit healthcare and education, and casinos, Jeju is now an international capitalist frontier where extremely mobile transnational capital drains developmental profits out of the island. Disputing the conventional belief that tourism/urban development benefits Jeju, this talk provides critical analyses of how speculative development projects have colonized the island since the 1960s through dispossession, extraction, and exclusion. Despite the obvious negative impacts of mega-development, the state’s and societal entrenched desires for “development (baljeon)” complicate the situation.

Detours on Jeju: Painful Histories and Decolonial Activism Behind the Tourist Paradise

As part of Jeju Olle Trail Route 10 and one of the best photo spots on the island, Songaksan boasts dazzling ocean views. But behind the scenic landscapes lie multiple intersecting histories of violence and pain. By confiscating local farmers’ land and forcibly mobilizing Jeju people, the Imperial Japanese Navy constructed Alddreu Airfield, which was used as Japan’s forward operating base during its invasion of China and as the last line of defense during the Pacific War. One anti-aircraft artillery camp built at that time became a site of mass killing during the April Uprising and Massacre under the US military occupation. After the United States Air Force (USAF) utilized the site during the Korean War, the Ministry of National Defense took it over andhas continued to own the land until today. Recently Chinese capital has purchased a vast amount of land near Songaksan and promoted the construction of a mega-resort, which involves the risk of severe environmental destruction and landscape privatization. This talk delves into Songaksan’s contentious histories fraught with colonialism, war, militarism, developmentalism, and encroachment by foreign capital. On the other hand, Songaksan is also aplace of activism, decolonial collective praxis, and a vision of alternative development. In the late 1980s, residents rose up against the planned construction of a new military base and year-long protests eventually nullified the plan. The massacre site has been revisited by dark tour participants who have looked back at the violent past and learned lessons from it. Recently, the Clean Jeju Songak Declaration was announced, promising to restrict rampant development projects and preserve the area’s historical, cultural, and environmental values. By telling stories of resistance and the rejection of militarism, tourism, and dispossession, this talk also evokes decolonial encounters with the place. Unsettling the notion that Jeju is a tourist paradise, this presentation introduces new ways of learning, experiencing, and feeling the island. The rich andpowerful documentation of Songaksan’s densely layered and hidden histories leads audiences to think about broader questions of militarism, developmentalism, and predatory capitalism in Jeju and Korea.

Imagine Your Korea: Experiences and Effects of K-Pop Tourism

The globalization of K-pop is not only about outward expansion with more export market penetration. The outward circulation of Korean entertainment has spawned inbound global flows by drawing in its audience as tourists and shoppers. As Korean popular culture functions as a window through which audiences come to know South Korea, specific places within the country have emerged as physical sites through which K-culture experiences can be extended. Even though they do not offer any of the traditional touristic opportunities for sightseeing, heritage, or leisure, K-pop-related places are newly rising as tourist destinations: they include sites where K-pop groups filmed music videos and had album jacket photo shoots, places frequented by K-pop idols, or stores offering K-pop merchandise. This talk navigates specific practices of K-pop tourism: what motivates fans to visit Korea, what specific destinations exercise an attraction for them, and how they experience K-pop-related places. Belatedly recognizing the explosive power of K-pop-induced mobilities, Korean municipalities have startedto employ K-pop and K-pop artists in their tourism promotion. Although the pandemic blocked opportunities for K-pop groups to hold overseas concerts, it led to various places in Korea being featured in prerecorded performances that were broadcast across the globe. The second part ofthe talk presents the specific practices, developments, impacts, and limitations of K-pop-themed place promotion. In both the practices of K-pop tourism and promotions of K-pop-featured places, the K-pop fans’ roles are critical in terms of reconfiguring, enriching, and publicizing the socially constructed meanings of places.

The AAS Secretariat is closed on Monday, May 29 in observance of the Memorial Day holiday